The Maidenberg family saga burst into light in 1956, when a surprise letter arrived in Marion, Indiana. Dated March 14 and written in careful, stilted English, it was addressed to “my dear nephews and dear Rosa.” It was written by Joseph Maidenberg, David’s younger brother, who lived in the city of Kishinev, the capital of the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic, part of the U.S.S.R., or as it was called in those Cold War years, the Soviet Empire.
Joseph, then 71, wrote that he had learned his brother had died three years prior. In fact, David had died in 1949 at the age of 64. Rosa, his wife and my grandmother, lived in Marion, as did three sons, Joseph’s nephews: Meyer, Milt (my father), and Frank. A fourth son, Ben, lived in Akron, Ohio. Joseph was well-read, of an intellectual bent, and could speak and write many languages.
How had Joseph learned of the death? We don’t know.
Why did Joseph write in 1956? Again, we don’t know. But on Feb. 25 that year, Nikita Khrushchev, who rose to power in the struggle following the death of the tyrant Josef Stalin in 1953, denounced Stalin in the so-called “Secret Speech” at a Communist Party’s Congress. The contents of the speech became known, and triggered hopes for an easing of domestic repression.
Perhaps Joseph knew of the speech. Perhaps he concluded that both Stalin and Stalinism were really dead, making the simple act of writing a letter to America less a mortal threat. There was also a desperate need by Joseph and his family for warm clothing.
How did the Maidenbergs of America react to the letter? They were intrigued but cautious. They had lost the thread of the family in the Old Country. They knew little of the family which remained there, and even what they knew was uncertain. Who had survived World War II, the Holocaust, and Stalin’s rule? Could they be certain the author was who he said he was? The distrust that permeated the Cold War seeped into family relations. McCarthyism and fanatical anti-Communism made communicating with Russia a risky proposition. Perhaps for this reason eight years of silence descended before correspondence resumed.
In the end, and to our great good fortune, the spark of the 1956 letter was never extinguished. It led to years of communication between “the Russians” and their American relatives, in particular Milt and Sylvia Greenberg, eldest daughter of Esther.
Joseph died in 1971. Eight years later, in 1979, Malieh, the youngest of the siblings, made contact. She wrote in Russian, which Sylvia managed to have translated. Then in 1981, Amnon, Joseph’s brilliant, multilingual son, stepped into the role of chief correspondent, communicating regularly with Milt, Sylvia and several other family members.
In 1990 I began an intense correspondence with him, seeking in my journalistic way (I had a long career in the newspaper business) to get dates, facts, stories. What happened to each of the five siblings who did not emigrate? Where are their families, and what do they do? What happened during World War II? What more do we know about Solomon and Perel?
I traveled to Ukraine and Moldova in May, 1996, visiting the ancestral shtetl of Dzygivka, seeing the grave of David’s father Solomon, and meeting Amnon in person, along with other family members. The journal of that trip is available here. Video of the trip (Family History Face to Face) is available here.
Sadly, my father died in June, 1996, before I could fully tell him about my “journey in two worlds.” I noted in his honor that he was the one who always wanted the make the trip.
Esther died in 1976. Malieh died in 1981. Amnon died in 1999. Sylvia died in 2008.
The record of the letters from Russia, the letters to Russia (saved by Amnon), my 1996 trip, and further study and research have given the Maidenberg family an amazingly full account of the family. There are many mysteries remaining to be solved, both in the “Old Country” and in America. All are explored on this website.
In the Maidenberg family’s saga are all the mileposts of modern Jewish history: the Pale of Settlement, emigration to America, the Holocaust, the Second World War, the foundation of the Israel, the departure of Soviet Jewry, the remnant of Jews who remain who in the former Soviet Union.
Even as the family encapsulates the past, it enacts the present and foreshadows the future. The sixth generation of Solomon and Perel now carry the saga forward, as will the generations to come.
– by Michael Maidenberg, eldest son of Milt Maidenberg, grandson of David and Rosa, and creator of this website. All questions and comments about MaidenbergFamily.com website will reach Michael via the Questions/Contact page.